NEW YORK -- Many countries pay lip service to the importance of
tourism to their economies -- appointing ministers, establishing
tourist boards, printing glossy brochures -- and then under-fund or
mismanage it all.
But France -- reeling, like many destinations, from the
worldwide drop in tourism because of terrorism, a poor global
economy and war -- put its money where its mouth is earlier this
month, boosting its tourism promotion budget by 40%, or about $4.5
million, for the remainder of this year and in 2004.
That decision was made at a recent, unprecedented gathering of
one-third of the country's top government officials, who also drew
up plans for a worldwide market relaunch of the France brand.
In addition, the government reaffirmed its commitment to
existing efforts, such as the decade-old Bonjour service training
program and the French Government Tourist Office's (FGTO) "Let's
Fall in Love Again" recovery campaign and France Certified Agent
specialist program in the U.S.
Key to the reinvigorated effort will be a France Quality Plan,
still under development, designed to improve the caliber of French
tourism product and promote it to international consumers, said
Jean-Philippe Perol, new director of the FGTO in the U.S.
"Today in tourism, the main point is quality," Perol said. "Even
a tourist who stays in a one-star hotel now wants quality, and in a
country like France, where costs traditionally are quite high, we
can't support anything of low quality."
One idea is to develop a new brand or logo to be used by
suppliers who epitomize high quality; another is to distill and
disseminate France's exacting and complex environmental, consumer
and quality standards in user-friendly, simple terms international
visitors can comprehend and appreciate.
At the same time, officials want to take France's sometimes
haughty image down a notch; for example, plans are afoot for
nationwide Gastronomy Day promotions intended to demystify and make
accessible the country's possibly intimidating haute cuisine and
fine wine cultures.
"The idea is to change the idea of French gastronomy just as we
change the image of France," said Perol. "It's seen as perhaps too
sophisticated and no fun, but it can be both sophisticated and a
lot of fun, though we've been poor at communicating that."
These efforts are particularly important when it comes to the
vital U.S. market; it's no secret many Americans would regard
"French service" and "French friendliness" as oxymorons.
However, the Bonjour training program, which seeks to sensitize
French tourism workers to foreign expectations and demands via a
seminar series and print materials, has been an unqualified
success, Perol said.
He said many in French tourism "now understand that we're in a
business where service is everything, and that in tourism people
have to adapt to their clients."
To help further disabuse U.S. travelers of the notion of French
arrogance, the FGTO in New York will see its budget rise to $5.5
million in 2004.
The funds will power the continuation of "Let's Fall in Love
Again," a two-pronged effort to promote affordable travel product
from the U.S. and convince Americans they'll receive a warm welcome
Perol said the campaign, launched this summer, already is doing
wonders: U.S. arrivals for September are projected to surpass those
in the same month last year, though overall figures for all of 2003
still are expected to drop 9% to 13%.
Particulars of next year's edition of the campaign have not been
worked out, but the year-old Club France loyalty program -- which
offers cardholders discounts of 10% to 30% at more than 1,500
French establishments -- will figure front and center.
What won't figure in at all is politics. Although some U.S.
travelers have canceled France vacations (or aren't booking them at
all) due to the country's opposition to the Iraq war, Perol said
the FGTO will focus on those travelers merely worried about
"We're in tourism, not politics, and the type of person who
won't take a trip to France for political reasons is difficult to
convince," he said.
French officials said they will continue to court U.S. travel
agents. The FGTO plans to beef up its burgeoning France Certified
Agent specialist program, launched last fall in cooperation with
the Institute for Certified Travel Agents [now called The Travel
More than 600 U.S. agents have enrolled in the course -- which
consists of a $79 educational program and $350 familiarization trip
-- and 170 already have passed and been certified.
Up to 80 additional agents will be certified by year-end,
according to the FGTO, which also is planning a new series of agent
seminars and operator roundtables this fall.
To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].